When we first hear about mass killings of the sort that happened in Toronto on Monday, history teaches that all of us -- and especially journalists -- should be prudent and not leap to conclusions.
Spreading falsehoods, even if unintentionally, can be hurtful and dangerous.
In the chaos following the shooting at the Quebec City mosque last year, Fox News in the U.S. falsely stated that the suspect was a Moroccan Muslim. It took the intervention of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau for the über right-wing U.S. network to issue a retraction.
That should have been a lesson-learned, but some in the media are slow learners.
On Monday afternoon, news of the homicidal attack on Toronto’s Yonge Street had barely broken when Sun News columnist Mark Bonokoski took to Facebook to post the following:
“Former OPP Commissioner Chris Lewis, on CTV News Channel, just broke the unnecessary ice and called a spade a spade on what happened in Toronto.He called it an ‘act of terrorism.’No shit!”
Well, if any murderous event in which there are multiple victims qualifies as terrorism, then this was terrorism. If, however, by terrorism we mean violence executed in the furtherance of ideology, religion or a political goal, and, usually, as part of an organized conspiracy, then, so far, there is no reason to characterize what happened on Yonge St. as terrorism.
That did not stop Bonokoski’s many acolytes and followers from weighing in on Facebook in an orgy of hate, resentment, invented facts, insults and vulgarity.
Tragic loss of life does not, in all cases, bring out the best in people.
Just as conspiracy-monger Alex Jones and his ilk’s reaction to the mass murder of children was to claim it did not happen, many in the alt-right Sun News community appear to consider a mass murder in Toronto an appropriate occasion to express not anguish or sympathy with the victims, but rather inchoate and angry venom.
Here is some of what they had to say, ranging from relatively benign inappropriate partisanship, to a determined effort to besmirch one particular religious community:
“Wynne will be all politically correct, like Trudeau or say nothing. I expect Doug Ford will be all over this, showing leadership and honest responses.”
“Not all those from the Middle East look dark... there is every skin tone from black to so called white...”
“Liberals need to protect the criminals! Especially if he turns out to be an islamist…”
Referring to the fact that the suspect appeared to be an immigrant, one commenter said:
“Liberals need to protect their voters. Let's get more here in the country, cause old stock Canadians won't usually vote for liberal-cancer.”
There were concerted efforts to argue that this event resulted from the failure of authorities to act on a known threat, because they are soft on terrorism.
“CBC is reporting the guy's name is Alek Minassian. Known to police…”
That assertion was false, of course. The police said from the outset that they had no record of Minassian, and one commenter tried to point that simple fact out, adding the fact that, although swarthy and bearing a foreign-sounding name, the suspect did not appear to be a Muslim:
“NOT known to police,” the commenter wrote, “You should pay closer attention. And Minassian is an Armenian name. Over 95% of Armenians are Christian; hardly any are Muslims.”
That intervention resulted in a bizarre exchange, with one commenter appearing to confuse Armenians with Albanians:
“Kosovo? Ring a bell? (Full of Albanians) Nah probably not, must keep pretending Islam is peaceful.”
Another had a better idea of geography, but insisted that since there is a tiny Muslim population in Armenia it is always possible that Minassian is a Muslim:
“I believe he has an Armanian [sic] name... for those interested there is a small Muslim population there... let’s see who he really is and why... I am sure Ottawa has put out the world to be quiet about his nationality.”
A barrel of bile
Much of the venom was directed at Trudeau, whom the Sun News gang believe is effeminate, a puppet of billionaire George Soros and his New World Order, and an apologist for terrorism:
“No shit is right... libtards downplaying the facts because they don't want to upset their master TURDo.”
“THE PEOPLE PERSON WHO MAY HAVE MANIPULATED THE VEHICLE INTO OTHERS -- Justin thinks they do this because they feel excluded. Well Alex come to my party --YOUR GONNA LOVE IT BELIEVE ME.” [sic]
The other big theme was that “politically correct” mollycoddling of minorities engenders murderous acts such as the attack on Yonge Street:
“So ITS [sic] time to take this situation seriously. No more politically correct words and bullshit!
“About time someone grew some balls... I am sick of liberals hiding the truth... no more sunny days Crime Minister….”
One dissenter in this dyspeptic swamp interceded to say:
“By jumping on this so quickly, without any facts, you’re no different than the worst of the people you’re mouthing off about. This guy is a horrible person but by trying to exploit these deaths and injuries for political reasons you’re equally as bad!”
And elsewhere on Facebook, one person expressed the rational, let’s-take-a-breath-and-wait-for-the-facts view this way:
“Please nobody hurt anybody else. Assumptions are very dangerous at this point.”
Bonokoski did not intervene when folks who commented on his Facebook post made questionable or even false assertions, but nor did he fan the flames of resentment. He maintained a stoic silence.
On Tuesday, as we were getting a bit more information about the attack on Yonge Street, Bonokoski did not have a column.
Sun News did, however, carry reports on the events of the previous day. One of its stories bore the headline:
“No link to terrorism so far in van attack probe: Police chief.“
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